Review: "The Wagner Experience" Part 4 "Dutch"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

Review: "The Wagner Experience" Part 4 "Dutch"

Postby alberich00 » Tue Mar 03, 2015 12:17 pm

This begins my review of Volume 2 of Paul Dawson-Bowling's 2013 book "The Wagner Experience."


P. 5-7: DB launches his chapter by quoting from Heinrich Heine's own version of the Flying Dutchman story, which is told as part of a romantic narrative in the ironic context of a real life sexual encounter with a Dutch blond whom Heine describes as "... a wondrous lovely Eve in Paradise," milked for its comedy. Heine goes on to describe this vixen as having an expression in the left upper lip which suggests to the fictional narrator an "... expression [which] comes not from evil, but from the knowledge of good and evil - it is a smile which has been poisoned or flavored by tasting the apple of Eden." Of course, Heine is merely being ironic. DB rightly notes how far Wagner's subsequent opera "The Flying Dutchman" parallels the main plot line of the version in Heine's story.

PH: What I find interesting here is Heine's juxtaposition of a reference to Eve in Paradise, who mythologically brought about the Fall through acquisition of prohibited knowledge, and the story of the Flying Dutchman in which a heroine redeems him from endless irredeemable wandering, an inability to die (to this world), by swearing eternal fidelity and committing suicide to bring about the hero's redemption. I say this only because Wagner, one way or another, bases heroines in every one of his canonical operas and music-dramas, perhaps even Senta in "The Flying Dutchman," upon Eve in Paradise, who becomes figuratively the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration for Wagner's heroes. Venus in "Tannhaeuser," his artistic muse, is clearly linked with Eve, as is obviously Eva in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," Walther's muse. Wagner himself wrote once of the parallel between Kundry and Eve. For strong evidence that Elsa in "Lohengrin" is to be construed as a sort of Wagnerian Eve who breached faith by acquiring prohibited knowledge, read my article "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried" posted here in this discussion forum (you must scroll down in the archived pages to an earlier date when I posted it here), as well as a complementary paper posted at The case is not so obvious in the "Ring" and "Tristan," but Bruennhilde, through Wotan's confession, becomes repository of his secret, forbidden hoard of divine knowledge, and later, in effect, is banished from the divine realm by Wotan for breaching his faith in her. Since Wagner himself wrote that the story of "Twilight of the Gods," in which Siegfried, under a spell, betrays his true love Bruennhilde and gives her away to another man as wife (just as Tristan gives his true love Isolde away to King Marke as wife), is virtually the same plot line as that in "Tristan and Isolde," we can make the case that Bruennhilde and Isolde are likewise Eve-live repositories of forbidden knowledge who become the muses of inspiration for their hero-lovers.

PH: The forbidden knowledge Isolde possesses is knowledge of Tantris's true identity as Tristan. But the knowledge she possesses is deeper than that. For Tristan describes his true identity and fate as being one with the poison love potion, which he comes to curse. "Tristan" Act III is primarily Tristan's meditation on who he really is, and this knowledge was previously unconscious for him, but having betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Isolde by giving her away to another man (Marke, who represents the artist-hero's audience), Tristan is no longer protected from forbidden self-knowledge and meditates on it until only suicide can alleviate his pain.

P. 11: PH: I won't bore readers by repeating my critique of DB's argument that Wagner's first wife Minna Planer was the primary source of inspiration for Wagner's heroines, in this case Senta, which can be found in my review of Volume One, but DB repeats this claim here: DB: "It may sharpen the focus of "The Dutchman" to realize that the face, form, and ideal of the Ewig-Weibliche, a prescient anticipation of Jung's anima, were still those of Minna," a point DB now makes just after having said: "The influence of Goethe and "Faust" was also a presence, endowing the Dutchman with Faustian characteristics and drawing in Goethe's 'Ewig-Weibliche'."

P. 18-19. Here DB offers extensive excerpts from Dutchman's monologue in which the Dutchman describes how long he has wandered in hope of finding redemption in a woman's eternal fidelity every seven years when he's allowed to come on shore to try again, and how often he's been disappointed, and how he comes to say: DB: " 'I beseech you, beloved angel of God, who won for me the terms of my salvation. Was I merely the unholy plaything of your mockery, when you showed me a glimpse of redemption?' His mood snaps back again to bitterness ... for two ... outbursts. 'Vain hopes! Dreadful delusions! Is all up with eternal fidelity on this earth? (...) Only a single hope remains, and remains unsheltered. The living centre of the Earth may long be active, but must perish in the end. Day of judgment! Ultimate day! When will you break up my eternal night? When will it come to pass, the stroke of destruction, which brings the world crashing in on itself? At last, when the dead rise again, I shall perish into nothingness. You worlds, make an end of your courses! Eternal nothingness, engulf me!' "

PH: For those unfamiliar with my interpretation of "The Flying Dutchman," I won't repeat it here [you can find a brief sketch of it under "Texts on Wagner" in my "Introduction to 'The Wound That Will Never Heal'," at], but simply point out that I find in "The Flying Dutchman" a basis for certain key plot elements in the "Ring." It would be hard to miss the parallel between the case of Wotan in "The Valkyrie," Act Two, Scene Two, when Wotan confesses to Bruennhilde that he has now realized his efforts to redeem the gods from the destruction Alberich's curse on his Ring will bring about are futile, and wishes now only for the end of all his hopes and dreams. Just as Satan in the "Dutchman" tempted the Dutchman, who swore he would never give up striving to round the Cape of Good Hope, so that Satan took him at his word [though Wagner finds this essential plot element in Heine's version of the "Flying Dutchman" or "Wandering Jew" legend, it is Wagner who bases an entire future artistic career on examining this oath, inherently unfulfillable, which for Wagner becomes a metaphor for man's very nature and curse, that by virtue of a mind which can't help but complete in thought what life experience presents as incomplete, man is cursed to pursue the impossible, to posit transcendent being, godhead, immortality, pure love, ultimate redemption, in the face of the fact that man remains material, remains animal, and can neither transcend the real world which gave birth to him, nor find any satisfactions outside of the real world because all of man's longings stem from real-world experience] and cursed the Dutchman to sail the seas forever unredeemed, so Loge, the god of self-deceit and thus religious belief and art, deludes Wotan and the other so-called Gods into believing they can enjoy the things of this mortal life yet live forever in transcendent bliss, by suggesting to Wotan the gods can have their eternal divine realm Valhalla without paying for it (i.e., without having to acknowledge their debt to their animal instincts of desire and fear, represented by Fasolt and Fafner respectively, and their debt to Alberich's forging of the Ring of consciousness, whose motif gave birth to the Valhalla Motif). Wotan like the Dutchman becomes an irredeemable wanderer. The only way out of this impasse, at least temporarily, is to find a woman who will love the hero unto death, which for Wagner means the muse for art, who sacrifices herself by implicating herself in the hero's self-delusion in order to inspire him to perpetuate it in religious belief (the gods) or art (the love of the artist-hero and his muse-heroine-lover). Another parallel with the "Ring" is that the ostensible final redemption is achieved through immersion in the waters of the world, a sort of return to pre-Fall unconsciousness.

PH: Another interesting parallel with the "Ring" is that the Dutchman, while futilely seeking redemption during his endless voyages throughout the world (Wagner's metaphor for mankind's historical experience), instead of finding redemption, the Dutchman endlessly acquires a hoard of treasure, which for Wagner in the "Ring" becomes a metaphor for the hoard of knowledge of our experience of ourselves and our nature, the more of which we acquire, the more conscious we become that our longing for redemption from the real world is an illusion. Note also that this hoard of treasure is described by the townsfolk in "Dutchman" as being as if it is guarded by a dragon or serpent.

P. 19-20: PH: I quote here from DB at a little length because his following description of how Wagner expanded greatly on the premise found in Heine's story shows how Wagner brought to it something entirely original, though DB doesn't explore in any meaningful detail the implications which I've described above: DB: "This scene exemplifies why this opera (and Wagner in general) is so involving. It shows how far Wagner enlarged the Dutchman's desire to be free of his curse. He gave the Dutchman 's random act of defiance and its penalty a wider existential dimension. The Dutchman's monologue opens up a main problem at the centre of life's storms, and it describes his attempts to grapple with it. It is his sense of life being blighted, of being hemmed in by some negative characteristic, or error, or failure from the past, and it reflects a widespread human experience. In some instances, the experience is a matter of some binding choice or choices that cannot be unmade, as it is for the Dutchman. He had long ago made a free choice but as often happens it has reared up over him and has him now in its iron grip. Certain aspects of this hemming in are not due to individual choices but are a consequence of the human condition itself. (...) Aspirations are also blocked by abilities which are inadequate to fulfill them. (...) Wagner was perennially fascinated by the stranglehold on life resulting from mistakes and restrictions from the past, and also from the death-grip of the human condition itself. He was just as fascinated by the possibilities of transcending these restrictions. They cannot be obliterated, but if it were possible to nullify their impact and render them innocuous, this would be a part of the redemption which is central to Wagner and the Wagner Experience. (Not that the concerns which he addressed were new; these are the problems which lie submerged in the Christian belief that life is vitiated by original sin, and they vitalize Christian aspirations towards deliverance). The particular sin of the Dutch captain, his determining fault, may seem paltry and meaningless today, his swearing he would sail 'round some cape or other if it took him until doomsday,' but it symbolizes graver faults and deficits. The penalty exacted, never to escape from his ship and the sea, symbolizes the impossibility of escaping the bounds of human nature, and it is from these that the Dutchman hopes for redemption."

PH: I couldn't have said it better, but I have been describing this existential dilemma, that man wishes to transcend his own human nature, but cannot, as a key to grasping the inner meaning of Wagner's life's work for many years now, in several published and copyrighted and online papers and my book "The Wound That Will Never Heal," posted here at this site. I am in full sympathy with DB's description of the Dutchman's plight here. I note, however, that DB doesn't follow up the full implications of this insight either in this chapter or his subsequent readings of Wagner's other operas and music-dramas. There is nothing paltry about the Dutchman's curse; his insistence that he will round the cape at all costs, or never give up trying, is indeed a metaphor for man's curse, his inherent need to posit his own spirit's transcendence of the natural world in the face of the fact that not only is he a product of the natural world, but all of his aspirations, even his aspiration to redeem himself from himself and from the natural world, are also natural. The parallel for Wotan, as described by Alberich, is that Wotan, by virtue of having proclaimed himself and his kin to be gods, has therefore sinned against all that was, is, and will be, the natural world, Mother Nature (Erda) herself, by denying her natural truth and positing instead divine transcendence, immortality. The gods (i.e., those humans who posit the gods) are predestined for a big fall. Their tragic fault is their existential dilemma, that they of their very nature long to transcend the very world which gave them being and meaning, Mother Nature. This is why several of Wagner's heroes (Siegfried, Tristan, Parsifal) hold themselves in some sense guilty of their mother's death, just as Alberich condemns Wotan for having sinned against Mother Nature, i.e., having sinned against all that was, is, and will be, which is identical with Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, and will be. It is in fact Wotan's sin that is the cause of Alberich's curse on the Ring, that the very power which the gift of reflective thought gave man, to posit the transcendent (in religious belief), will ultimately, when it matures into science, destroy man's illusions about his own nature and destiny.

P. 22-23: Here DB discusses a key aspect of the Dutchman's curse, alienation and the need to hide his true identity: DB: "The Dutchman's encounter with Daland has clarified another aspect of his curse. This aspect is alienation. It was one of Wagner's achievements to identify and represent alienation in "The Dutchman," and most people have enough familiarity with a sense of alienation for this to strike chords. It is not simply that the Dutchman's life has become too harsh for him, that he cannot cope with its storms and frustrations: there is also his isolation. Not only is everything against him; every new acquaintance, as he believes, would reject him if he revealed who or what he really is. He describes a common feature of alienation, the conviction that everyone would detest him 'if they really knew,' that even the pirates are so aghast at him that instead of attacking they make their escape. To gain any acceptance, he must, he feels, conceal his identity."

PH: The Dutchman notes that Senta herself would turn from him if she really knew who he was, and Wagner once said of the Dutchman that deep inside he regards it as a crime against the women to whom he looks for salvation to involve them in his quest for it (the implication being that they are bound to fail him). This business of the hero's identity is very important in Wagner's works, especially since, if my understanding is correct, most or all of Wagner's young hero-lovers are his metaphor for the secular artist, because Wagner said of his own art that it remained a mystery even for him. Note that Siegfried doesn't know who he is, but Bruennhilde, who heard Wotan's confession of the hidden history behind the Waelsung heroes, tells Siegfried that what he doesn't know, she knows for him (i.e., his true identity). Note that Tristan hides his true identity but Isolde guesses it, and later helps him conceal it. Note again that Parsifal doesn't remember who he is but Kundry, who knows his identity for him, calls him by the name he'd forgotten, Parsifal. Note that the primary plot element in "Lohengrin" is that Elsa insists on knowing Lohengrin's true but hidden identity. In my interpretation, of course, Elsa ultimately is offering to know "for" Lohengrin his true identity, so he need not know it and suffer from consciousness of it (as Wotan suffers so greatly from excess consciousness of his true fate and identity that he represses this knowledge into his own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, and thereby figuratively gives birth to Wotan's ideal self, Siegfried, whose primary heroic virtue is that he doesn't know who he is). Note also that Tannhaeuser's true, but taboo and thus hidden, identity, is that he's an artist inspired unconsciously by Venus in the Venusberg, the muse of his unconscious mind, a secret he involuntarily exposes for the world to see within the song he sings to win Elizabeth's hand. Similarly, Eva (in this like Bruennhilde hearing Wotan's confession of knowledge he himself can't afford to face consciously) hears Sachs's confession of things which must remain hidden, Sach's "Noth," and this forbidden knowledge it is which both covertly causes the riot of the townsfolk (along with Beckmesser's song which is incapable of redeeming the Folk from this forbidden, fatal knowledge, unlike Walther's master song), and is the source of Walther's dream of inspiration which produces his redemptive master song.

P. 28-29 PH: Here DB introduces the Dutchman's first, decisive, duet with Senta.

PH: This duet, I've always felt, is the first time in Wagner's canonic romantic operas, from "Dutchman" through "Lohengrin," that he has produced a resonance which recalls his mature style. There is something about the awe of it, and the pacing, which recalls in some strange way the "Todesverkundigung" in "The Valkyrie," Act Two, Scene 4, in which Bruennhilde appears before Siegmund and announces he is fated to die. DB quotes the following extract: DB: [The Dutchman:] "This dark glow which I feel burning within me, shall I identify it as love? Ah, no, my yearning is rather for salvation; if only it could come to me in the form of an angel such as this!"

PH: I've always found the Dutchman's identification of sexual love with religious salvation and redemption (from the real world, into a spiritual, transfigured world) most interesting, because in several major religions sexual love would be construed as tying us to this earthly orb, the ultimate expression of the profane. However, since Wagner gradually developed his metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration from sexual love between hero and his muse-lover, the heroine, and since he came to view his own secular art as the natural heir to religious faith when faith itself can no longer be sustained, it went without saying that sexual love, so construed, is the natural heir to dying faith in religious salvation and redemption. Just as religious faith offers us a promise of being redeemed from the labors and errors and anguish of this world into a transfigured, miraculous world of the spirit which is autonomous from the natural world and from the limits of our human nature, so secular art, as Feuerbach noted, can make us feel as if in the presence of the divine, without making indefensible intellectual claims to having actually achieved spiritual redemption. In other words, already in "The Dutchman" Wagner seems to be exploring art as an alternative to religion, though I do not have hard evidence of Feuerbach's influence upon Wagner's art until he wrote "Tannhaeuser," I believe three years later.

P. 29-30 PH: DB tells us that he is fully aware that Wagner's remark above, mouthed by the Dutchman, is profoundly significant: DB: "His words are some of the most telling and pregnant that Wagner ever put into the mouth of his stage-characters, but because they are also some of the most compressed and allusive, their meaning is not easy."

PH: DB's explanation I can't really take issue with, but I don't believe it really penetrates to what is at stake. Nonetheless I repeat it here: "He [the Dutchman] conveys the truth that romantic love begins when a member of the opposite sex fits an existing matrix in another person's mind, and he models how the Dutchman and Senta fill out each other's unformed imaginings with real images of one another. The existence of any real romance between the Dutchman and Senta has been questioned, because the Dutchman speaks rather of salvation and because neither the Dutchman nor Senta reveal any clear-cut carnal longings. The point is that their magnetic pull, each for the other, is built on the matching and fulfilling of archetypal expectancies, something more complex than physical attraction. (...) Barriers melt away; ego-boundaries dissolve like mists; isolation is no more; even mortality is unreal and meaningless. This is a state of being which appears to redeem the human condition; it seems mystical; it is salvation. Other forms of affection and other human relationships bring other fulfillments; but generally nothing outside the experience of mystics quite matches this."

PH: Though I can concur with this so far as it goes, I go further and interpret Wagner's heroes and heroines as two halves of the same mind, the male being the conscious artist-hero, the female lover his unconscious mind and muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. This eliminates the need for finding the same archetype in two different people, and also discloses just how lonely in the final analysis Wagner's outsider-heroes are. I recall that Nike Wagner, Wagner's granddaughter, wrote something to this effect about Tristan. My interpretation doesn't mean, however, that as we experience a performance of these works we are oblivious to these characters as lovers; the whole point for Wagner was that thanks to a drama written in a very special way, and its music, we are able to take in, without reflection, but subliminally, meanings which otherwise would be unavailable to us. Thus, we experience this as a feeling, not a thought, though, according to Wagner's own worldview, each such feeling is linked with thoughts which may remain unconscious except under special conditions.

P. 30: DB: "Senta makes a declaration that whoever he is (she knows full well), and whatever his fate, she will adopt it as her own and obey her father. The Dutchman is enthralled but baffled at such instant commitment. When he asks: 'So absolute? Are you steeped in sympathy for my sufferings?' she murmurs to herself, 'Oh what sufferings! What consolation I can bring you ... .' It makes him sink gratefully on his knees and pray that his salvation may come through her; but at the same time he warns her that only if she is steadfast in virtue and fidelity can she avoid falling back in horror at the enormity of his needs and the consequences of failing him. This warning only has the effect of raising her to a state of exaltation, and she consecrates herself to be 'true unto death.' "

PH: Wagner in several places speaks of the redemptive quality of music as being as fathomless and infinite as the human heart and its sufferings, and here we see Senta as the muse of art, if you will, or even as the specific art of music (which Wagner links not only with woman, but with water, re the final redemption in both "Dutchman" and the "Ring"), offering to take on the burden of the Dutchman's fateful identity, which is the same as saying, the burden of his fate and curse, in order to redeem him from it. As Wagner said, the Dutchman fears that any woman who thus offers herself will inevitably betray her trust and then suffer along with him his own fate. This is precisely the situation of Bruennhilde who, in offering to save Wotan's plan for redemption in the face of Wotan's acknowledgment to himself of its futility, becomes unwittingly complicit in Wotan's crime against all that was, is, and will be, and is thus destined to be destroyed by Alberich's curse on the Ring. One of my hypotheses is that after Wagner obtained his chosen redemption for the Dutchman, and the rather artificial and strained redemption for Tannhaeuser, from "Lohengrin" onward he could no longer believe in any final redemption, but only in the temporary redemption offered by works of inspired art, such as he depicted in "Mastersingers," but in his final work, "Parsifal," the redemption offered by the muse of unconsciously inspired art, Kundry, the temporary salves on the wound that will never heal, no longer work, so that in the end, Wagner in Parsifal renounces the muse of art Kundry, and she passes away.

P. 34: PH: I can't resist recording here an anecdote from my life in Wagner of the most absurd sort, but which DB's discussion of Erik's Cavatina in "The Dutchman" has brought to mind. Erik is of course the Dutchman's ineffective rival for Senta's hand, but he can't compete as a lover because his needs don't rise to the level of that wound that will never heal which the Dutchman, as a higher or inspired artistic man, feels, since for the Dutchman all things are experienced (as both Schopenhauer and Wagner said of the higher man) in their universal, tragic significance. Erik tries to remind Senta of what he allegedly once meant to her, based on vows sworn of a summer's evening: DB: "He embarks on a cavatina, a type of short aria that rises out of a recitative and it is cast in that maudlin lyricism which has become his hallmark, and which lessens the natural sympathy of the audience for this hapless man."

PH: Unless I'm confusing this cavatina with another musical excerpt from "Dutchman," if memory serves I was once eating dinner in Washington, DC, on a hot summer's night, on the flat roof of an Italian restaurant which overlooked Columbia Ave., sitting with two friends chatting about opera, when one of the two friends, who had once given a pre-show lecture at Bayreuth, informed us that his favorite moment in all of Wagner was this very cavatina. My other friend and I were struck dumb. We asked him why. His answer was that it reminded him of Bellini. Now, this friend was a nice guy, with many redeeming qualities as a regular chap, a lover of the arts, and a scholar, but I can scarcely imagine a greater insult to Wagner. It has stayed with me ever since, as an example of the endlessly amusing and diverting ways of this strange world.

P. 34-35: DB quotes the following passage from "Dutchman," in which the Dutchman misconstrues Senta's conversation with Erik, concluding falsely that Senta has betrayed her love for the Dutchman for Erik's sake: Dutchman (to Senta): DB: " 'You have betrayed me and so too has God. Learn the doom that you have barely escaped. I am condemned to a fate so frightful that death would be a happy release, and I can be redeemed only by a woman true unto death. You made your promise of true love to me, but not yet before God, and that has saved you. Eternal damnation is the lot of those who have broken their vows, but you, Senta, shall be saved.' It is to the Dutchman's credit that even when he believes Senta faithless he wants to save her from her fate, and this contributes to the impression that he is a man who deserves his own deliverance. Senta is seized with an ecstatic conviction and answers: 'I now you well; I know your doom. I recognized you when I first saw you. Your torment is at an end. I am the one through whose love your are redeemed. (...) The Dutchman, now on board, tells Senta she is wrong to think she knows. 'You do not know me; you cannot imagine who I am. Ask the seas anywhere on earth; ask the seaman who crosses the oceans - he knows this ship, the terror of all good people; every one calls me "The Flying Dutchman".' Senta breaks free and runs up the promontory to call out her final words; 'All praise to your angel and his decree. Here I stand, true unto death.' She hurls herself into the waters, proving that she is eternally true to him because, having perished, it is obvious that she can never be faithless. The Dutchman's great ship sinks instantly ... . They clear to reveal Senta and the Dutchman, locked in a passionate embrace and floating up towards the rising sun, both transfigured and redeemed."

PH: I have said previously both in my review here, and in various portions of my online book on the "Ring" posted at, and elsewhere, that there is something terrible about the Dutchman's true identity, which is also his curse and fate, which implicates anyone involved in it in his existential or primal crime, just as Wotan implicates his daughter Bruennhilde and the Waelsung heroes she favors (against his conscious will), by allowing both them and Bruennhilde to act as his proxies to do what he knows consciously he can't do. That primal crime, the very identity of man, is man's existential dilemma, that man, by his very nature as a consciously reflective being with a symbolic mind, can't help positing transcendent value, in spite of the fact that nothing transcends the natural world which gave birth to humankind, into which man is born, which produces his body and mind, and remains his context throughout life. As Feuerbach said, even man's impulse to seek to transcend his natural limits has a natural origin which, however, man's symbolic mind automatically obfuscates through unconscious and involuntary self-deceit. On the long-view, i.e., taking into account the place of "The Flying Dutchman" in Wagner's life's work, as the first of his artworks which Wagner himself stated expressed his true self, and as the seedbed for much that came later, particularly in the "Ring," the Dutchman's insistence on defying natural law at all costs (that he will strive forever if necessary to sail past the Cape of Good Hope, not accepting nature's limits on man), and Satan's taking him at his word and cursing him, is analyzed and parsed in Wagner's "Ring" with greater elaboration. The Dutchman's original sin becomes Wotan's sin, as described by Alberich, that in taking possession of Alberich's Ring (i.e., in mankind's taking possession of the very power of human thought itself) in order to sustain the gods (i.e., in order to sustain the illusion of transcendent godhead), Wotan sins against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., and therefore figuratively kills mother nature, Erda, by consigning her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, to oblivion, and replacing this objective knowledge with a consoling illusion.

PH: Though it is impossible to be certain we can retroactively impute to the Dutchman a viewpoint which only reaches its fullest development in Wagner's subsequent hero Wotan, nonetheless I feel we find a seedbed here for Wotan's relationship with his daughter Bruennhilde, who, as Wotan's own unconscious mind in whom he represses his knowledge of his own true fate, curse, and identity during his confession to her, achieves temporary redemption from the fatal truth through her inspiration of the artist-hero Siegfried, as his muse. But this temporary redemption of religious feeling, the religious longing for transcendent value, in art, is ultimately condemned to destruction also, along with the gods. Thus it is that Wagner's ultimate hero Siegfried, and ultimate heroine Bruennhild, betray each other. I suspect then that the Dutchman knows deep inside him that no ultimate redemption is possible for him, because even all those women (artistic muse's) who were willing to sacrifice themselves for him (as music in a sense sacrifices its independence for the drama, as both Wagner and Jean-Jacques Nattiez pointed out) are ultimately destined to fail, because they are serving man's self-deception. Thus it is that Wagner's final heroine Kundry is a potential muse for redemption through art which is no longer effective, not even temporarily. Thus Kundry's salves and balms, the hope they offer contrasted with their ineffectuality, become a greater torture than simply accepting the bitter truth itself, that man is entirely a product of, and perhaps even the consciousness of, Mother Nature. That is why Mother Nature regains her innocence in Wagner's final artwork "Parsifal."

P. 36: DB: "Wagner has enshrined here a strange but beautiful mix of past experience, kitsch, wishful thinking and pure imagination. (...) Wagner's hero and heroine are both creatures of fate and yet alter and rearrange their fates. Wagner prescribes and models for us the paradox, the contradiction by which we have to live, that we are bound by circumstances and predestined, and yet have free will. It is a free will which we have to exercise, even if the laws of physics and physiology demonstrate that this free will cannot really be there."

PH: This summation sounds very like some of the analyses of the "Ring" and "Tristan" by Roger Scruton. I agree both with DB's remark above, and with Dr. Scruton's analysis of the Kantian implications for the concept of free will, that in practical life we can only get on if we assume that we are freely acting beings who are responsible for our opinions and actions. However, in the profoundest sense I personally suspect that all of our acts are foreordained, if for no other reason than that we ourselves, i.e., you, and I, are ourselves and not somebody else, so that to say we have free will is something like saying we can be somebody other than ourselves. How can we transcend, or be autonomous with respect to, our own nature, our own individual identity? And if we were to be capable of feeling, thinking, acting in a manner alien to our identity and nature, would that not suggest that these feelings, thoughts, and acts reflected some outside influence and not us? Even our very longing to transcend our nature and natural limits stems from them. What deludes us, as Feuerbach said, is the unique nature of the human mind, which thinks through symbols for things, and therefore is capable of imagining that our symbols for things, especially comparatively general or abstract things, are more real than things themselves.

PH: What Bruennhilde does for Wotan, when he has lost all hope of preserving the gods (and thus of preserving man's religious faith in the gods) from destruction by truth, is to offer an escape hatch, the secular art (music-drama) she will lovingly inspire the artist-hero Siegfried to produce during their S.3.3 love-duet, which I strongly believe is Wagner's allegorical representation of Siegfried's unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Bruennhilde. Similarly, but in a far more cryptic fashion, Senta offers the Dutchman, through her redemptive love in which she's willing to sacrifice herself and even risk sharing his fate, an alternative to his nihilistic wish for self-annihilation, after he's lost his religious faith. For those of you who are wondering, Wagner saved his representation of the creation and performance before the public of a redemptive work of art for "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," in Walther's Act 3 master song which wins the audience's approval and Eva's hand in marriage. In the "Ring," which is Wagner's more comprehensive allegory for world-history, Wagner does not present to us within the drama one of Siegfried's redemptive works of art (I presume the "Rhine Journey" represents a long period of time, and since Siegfried doesn't just represent a real, living artist-hero, but rather, the archetype, we can imagine a long period of creative activity during Siegfried's lost years, so to speak), but rather, passes over the comparatively short period in which redemptive secular art could effectively offer us a salve for the loss of religious faith (which is represented in "Mastersingers"), and moves instead straight onward to the culminating work of art in which its secret of unconscious artistic inspiration is exposed to the world, namely, in Siegfried's T.3.2 narrative of how he came to grasp the meaning, in words, of the Woodbird's song. This is Wagner's allegorical representation of what I think he believed, perhaps subliminally, that he was actually doing in his "Ring." So Siegfried's narrative is a miniaturization of the whole "Ring," the play within the play.

P. 36-37: On this subject, DB goes on to say: DB: "Another important point for understanding the Dutchman's message to us is that he does not really want or intend that Senta should die for him. After all, the other women he had attracted had perished for an eternity of damnation, but this had done him no good. What really matters to him about 'true unto death' is the unconditional love and acceptance that it represents. (...) However her [Senta's] suicide is a response to a crisis that is unexpected and not part of her life-plan. It is Erik's appearance in Act III and the Dutchman's instant conclusion that she is faithless which create the crisis. ... She grasps with shining clarity that all will be lost unless she demonstrates her love instantly and with utter and unconditional finality, a staged and literal representation of 'true unto death'. This is indeed redemptive for the Dutchman, but it does not bring him the annihilation which he had envisaged as the only redemption possible ... . (...) Senta draws the Dutchman into a better redemption, a blissful relationship with her forever."

PH: Though we are dealing in the "Dutchman" with Wagner's first (according to his own account) authentic effort in the arts, nonetheless I don't think there's anything casual or accidental about what occurs in the finale. Clearly, the Dutchman has become so used to ultimate infidelity in the women to whom he looked every 7 years for redemption, that he jumps to an instant conclusion with no hard evidence as Senta is speaking with Erik. However, I suspect, for the reasons I stated above, that even Senta's sacrifice unto death for the sake of love is not to have ultimate staying power. I can't help thinking of Wagner's remark, when he heard people praising "Tristan and Isolde," that Kundry is in a sense far the greater heroine because in her reincarnations she has gone through Isolde's final transfiguration many times (I"m doing this from memory, but the original is, I think, an extract from Cosima's Diaries which can be found in the anthology of extracts from Wagner's writings and recorded remarks to be found here In "Parsifal" Wagner finally renounces the value of unconsciously inspired secular art, the very art that in him had reached its apotheosis, and so the muse Kundry is never able to grant her potential (but no longer actual) lover Parsifal temporary redemption through love, but instead dies, leaving Parsifal alive. Since Bruennhilde and Isolde are parallel cases (as explained earlier in this review), the same goes for Bruennhilde in respect to Kundry.

P. 37: PH: In spite of my hypotheses re the Dutchman's evident redemption at the end, per my description above, nonetheless I agree with DB's following statement: DB: "Too many people, too many writers and producers have regarded this conclusion as simplistic and trite, a bolted-on irrelevance, but it is the very culmination of the action, and its message about 'Erloesung durch Eros,' brings with it a luminous shimmer."

PH: There can never be any grounds in my interpretations of Wagner's operas and music-dramas for introducing anything alien to Wagner's original conception and stage directions in live performances. I believe producer-directors could benefit from knowledge of my interpretations, but only in the sense that they might better grasp the very logic, grounds, coherence of what Wagner has given us in libretto text, stage directions, and music. What is called for is an intensification of interpretation, not wild experimentation on the off-chance that one might strike it right in one moment or two at the expense of the whole.

Site Admin
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Return to General Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest